Sunday, April 30, 2006

i mean, if your plan is to only do this once, you ought to try to be creative about it

Next weekend, I will be attending a wedding for which I thought the invitations were exquisitely well-designed. Today, however, I received what wins my so-far-all-time award for wedding invitation design. The envelope is above. Note the nice touch of using blue to dot the i in Cambridge.

To attend this second wedding, I am passing up a trip to Scotland. While I never thought of skipping the wedding for Scotland, my conviction that I made the right choice increased even more when I heard that the wedding will feature a number of nuptual-style-innovations, including the groom's wearing a monocle.

(Incidentally, the above address works for any gifts you might wish to send me. But, if you are in Cambridge, don't, um, just stop by.)

brief dispatch from counterfactualville

(conversation Saturday afternoon)
Friend: "She brought her boyfriend the drug dealer. Whose name is Jeremy, by the way."
Me: "Makes sense. I mean, if I were a drug dealer, my name would be Jeremy."

Saturday, April 29, 2006

special weblog contest!

Prompted by a post from Kim guestblogging over at Marginal Utility, JFW is now accepting nominees for the answer to the riddle "How many sociologists does it take to change* a light bulb?" You need not be a sociologist to enter, although studies do indicate that sociologists tend to be funnier than other people.

If I had a copy of the Sociologist's Book of Cartoons, I'd offer that up as a prize. As it is, I'll have to figure something out. (Maybe Sal's new two-hundred-thousand-dollar bicycle that he's all excited about, as I know he'd love to donate that for advancing the amusement of the discipline.)

Mathieu Deflem has already sent his entry! Q: "How many sociologists does it take to change a light bulb?" A: "Our purposes are (1) to describe the state of the light bulb, (2) to explain how the light bulb came to be that way (e.g., 'burned out'), and (3) to provide some insight into how the light bulb might respond to different interventions. As scientists, it is not our purpose to "change" the light bulb. Instead, we should try to inform policymakers so that they can determine the right kind of light bulb actions for a brighter future. I have written a letter to the ASA Council complaining about sociologists who would seek to compromise the scientific status of our discipline by trying to change light bulbs themselves, and I will also complain about a certain sociologist who claims I have entered his 'special weblog contest' when really it is just him making things up yet again."

* or "screw in a light bulb", depending on your preference for how the joke should be worded. [thanks to Kieran for pointing this out]

Update, 12:30am: My pal Kestrel sends her Top Ten list:

10. Two. One to screw in the light bulb, and the other to reassure insecure colleagues that the lightbulb is being screwed in 'sociologically.'

9. One, but it will take three years and two revise-and-rescrews before it gets done.

8. The sociologist can't find the "Change Bulb" menu option in SPSS, and so then just writes a few paragraphs about how the dark is preferable anyway.

7. We won't know until they finish arguing about whether light is socially constructed.

6. Are these Wisconsin sociologists? Because then you know they'll just stand around looking helpless until Michelle does it.

5. There isn't any meaningful difference between a burned-out lightbulb and a new one. SOCIOLOGISTS FOR NADER 2008.

4. If we can just get 300 sociologists to sign up and pay $10, we can have our own "Light and Society" section of the ASA, which will provide an ideal platform for discussion and action regarding that light bulb.

3. One, but the lightbulb has to sign a consent form before the sociologist can touch it.

2. Sociologists can take light bulbs out just fine, but can't screw light bulbs in. Sociologists only know how to spin things to the left.

1. One. Unless it's Jeremy, then: two, maybe three.

Update, next day: Tonya links to this post to make fun of the strange sign-making ways of Wisconsin sociologists. Except she's wrong. The sign she's making fun of is on the 6th floor of social science, which means it was made by... the economists!

Friday, April 28, 2006

mostly harmless

Tonight's insomnia diversion was reading Mostly Harmless, the final book in the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy series. I've owned it but hadn't gotten around to ever reading it because everyone said it was really bad. And, you know, when everybody says something, they're probably right. This is the fallacy behind the old parental challenge to peer pressure, "Well, if everybody jumped off the Empire State Building, would you?" Because, seriously, if everybody suddenly started traveling New York and cramming the stairwells and elevators of the Empire State Building in order to jump off it, I would want to know why, and I suspect the answer would make me strongly consider the idea myself. Anyway, Mostly Harmless sucked as bad as everyone said and more.

selections from my inbox

From a friend:
will you blog about the number of female sociology 
graduate students i have met recently who have taken
or will be taking their husband's last name upon getting
married? i met yet another one today.
this makes me crazy!!!!
I have no opinion on this. My stance is that women can do whatever they want with their last name after they get married, unless they are marrying me, in which case they can do whatever they want except change their last name to "Freese." Do know, all you surname-switching-sociology-sisters out there, that you are driving a friend of mine crazy. Know also that, if there is any common thread running through friends of mine, it is that they do not have to be driven very far to be across the border and into locoland, if you know what I mean.

From a stranger:
Prof. Freese,
You seem like a really cool guy, and I was wondering
if you could answer a quesion for me. What is the
first thing you look at when examining results
corresponding to regression analysis? Unstandardized,
standardized, t tests?
The first thing I look at is the variable names. Then I look at the unstandardized coefficients. Then I look at the p-values, although only that if I know/have looked at the number of observations. Then, usually, I look at my e-mail for awhile and maybe some blogs.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

akin to: i am barely making enough money to get by. for this reason, i have decided I will set fire to every other paycheck from now on

(The reading room in Harvard's undergraduate library. Due to signs prohibiting photography, I took this surreptitiously with my camera phone. Shhh!)

On I think four different occasions in the past month, I have either read papers or heard talks--none, I should say pre-emptively, by Tina--that have somewhere made an argument that was structurally the following:
The data I have unfortnuately provide very modest information [due to weak measurement, low sample size, whatever] pertinent to the research question I am trying to address. Because of this limitation, I have made an analytic decision to throw away some of the pertinent information I do have.
BTW, I am working today from the Harvard undergraduate library, because I have a bunch of reviewing and other reading I need to get caught up on and I thought I would get more done here than either in my office or home. Diagonally across from me is a young woman who looks strikingly like Matt Damon's Harvard love interest in Good Will Hunting. She's even doing chemistry homework, just like in the movie.

The last two sentences of this post were taken by an anonymous commenter as suggesting I was itching to go over and be all creeptastic toward the woman in question. Such an interpretation was not intended by the proprietor of this weblog. Sheesh.

if it's a pet peeve, it's like one of those pets that turns on its owner one day and eats him alive

I understand that 98+% of readers may well have no problem with "impact" as a transitive verb,* and that many think the rest of us are just being diction snobs. At least for me, though, it's like some kind of allergen. I read it, and my face winces up like someone shoved lemon wedge in my mouth. And, as is the way with many allergens, I appear to be incapable of building up a tolerance to it.

My usual method of pointing this out to students who would have me read their work is to circle it and offer some friendly-toned little comment. Empirically, however, this has had zero effect on the probability of students using impact, v. trans in subsequent papers I am asked to read. For repeat cases, I think now I might try buying a pen whose ink is the color of dried blood and scrawling "YOU HURT ME EACH AND EVERY TIME YOU DO THIS" in maniacal looping cursive instead.

* Hypothetical examples: "I wonder how Jeremy's little rants about ASA impact his career prospects" or "I wonder how the more inane anonymous commenters on Jeremy's blog impact his mental health."

Sunday, April 23, 2006

inside out

I bought a webcamera today. I went to Best Buy and spent about 10 minutes looking at the Logitech QuickCam Deluxe and the Logitech QuickCam Pro, which were both priced at $99, and it wasn't apparent from anything on the boxes which was better except my dim sentiment that "Pro" implied a higher level than "Deluxe." I decided to get the "Pro", except then I saw another display where the "Deluxe" was only $59, so I got that instead.

Anyway, it clips right onto the top of my tablet. Exactly what I will use it for, I am not sure. Festoon does integrate with GoogleTalk (which in turn insinuates itself fully into GMail, making fully clear Google's 'gateway drug' intentions when they started GMail). Not that I have time for such shenanigans.

stickfigure cinema

If you are like me and having trouble sitting still because of your excitement for the forthcoming film Snakes on a Plane (the subject of various previous posts I don't have time to link to), then you can see a very short animated abridgement of the film that someone made here.

the cost of a drug-free america? statistical illiteracy.

There is currently an ad running on the New York Times online that shows these photos of three fresh-faced teenagers and asked "Which of these kids is most likely to use drugs?" No matter which photo you choose--or, if you just sit there and don't choose a photo--it says "Incorrect. All kids are at risk for using drugs."

Saturday, April 22, 2006

woodwinds of the past

(I was just looking at my saved "Drafts" in Blogger, which contains mostly posts that I started and didn't finish, but then also includes posts I wrote and decided (for any of various reasons) not to post. Here would be an example of something that I apparently decided not to post. I think I didn't post it because it was something I wrote when I was traveling to give a talk, and when I do that there are people who Google me for the first time, and some of them click over to my blog--especially since it's now the first thing when you Google "Jeremy Freese--and apparently the post was not the first impression that I wanted to make on unknown faculty or students at the place I was visiting. Go figure.)

It's way past 2am, and I can't sleep. The guestroom where I am staying has an original painting on the wall across from the bed by Rodger Roundy (check out the site; a lot of the work is very good). The painting came into the hands of my friend after it was barred from an exhibit for being "too graphic." The painting is mostly this sea of red books. A college-aged woman is lying in it, and a man is standing over her. She is in her underwear, and he is in his boxers. Protruding from the fly of his boxers is a clarinet. (Yes, a clarinet.) I think this painting is the reason I am having trouble falling asleep, as I do not want any part of this painting showing up in my dreams.

Friday, April 21, 2006

how i became bored

I started reading How I Became Stupid this evening. I bought it at the Co-op because it looked funny. It's not, at least not the first forty pages. It's translated from French. Maybe it's funny in French, or maybe this is more the whole French-people-have-surprisingly-unsophisticated-taste-in-humor thing, especially as it was not funny in that jokes-seem-almost-oppressively-obvious way of being not funny. Consider this passage:
The reason he would do anything rather than end up in that hospital is that he ran the risk of meeting his uncle Joseph and aunt Miranda there. Antoine was kind-natured but could not stand them; in fact, no one could stand them. It was not that they were dangerous, only that they never stopped complaining, moaning, and making a fuss about the least little thing. A group of delightful Buddhists had been reduced to joining the ranks of a paramilitary force as a result of spending too much time with them. Every time they traveled abroad they created a diplomatic incident. As a result they were forbidden to visit several countries: Israel, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Japan, and the United States. The IRA, ETA, and Hezbollah had published bulletins stating that they would execute the couple if they set foot in their territories again. The authorities in the relevant countries said and did nothing that implied any opposition to this stance. Perhaps one day the army would have the courage to use the destructive potential of this couple and would deploy it when atomic bombs were discovered to be too ineffectual.
Anyway, you have been warned.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

spoiled, i know

How swell one might imagine that it is to have a high-autonomy and well-paid postdoc at Harvard, it is even more swell to have this and still have demography library privileges at the University of Wisconsin. I needed a single page from the American Economic Review that was not part of the online-accessible collection. It was also unclear whether that particular print issue of the journal was going to be at either the undergraduate or graduate libraries (so it would be hit-or-miss to walk over hunting for it). I e-mailed the UW demography library, and had a pdf of the page within an hour.

(For those who've followed my reproducibility-standards-saga, the page in question was the editorial statement (by Ben Bernanke, successor to Alan Greenspan at the Federal Researve) indicating that the McCullough and Vinod problems that I quoted yesterday was indeed the reason for AER stepping up its policy [the principle of the policy existed, the change was active enforcement by requiring actual submission of materials to the Editors to be posted].)

Note also: Chris has his own ideas about possible expansion of the reproducibility principles to other domains.

stranger than fiction, and rarely as well-written

Okay, so I didn't really like it when "declining significance of sociology" was the theme of the American Sociological Association meetings last year, even if "rising and" was tacked on to the front (and, yes, it felt and presumably was tacked on). Annual meetings of a discipline are, you know, supposed to imbue members with enthusiasm, not make them gloomy about their choice of careers.

This year, the subtitle of the ASA meetings is "Transgressing Boundaries." As I was just reminded by a fellow sociologist, this year is the tenth anniversary of the Alan Sokal's famous hoax, in which he published a paper that incorporated postmodern jargon and jibberish physics (apparently quite funny jibberish physics, if you know physics) in the cultural studies journal Social Text. The pre-colon title of that paper: "Transgressing the Boundaries."

Tuesday, April 18, 2006


I have a circulable draft of my paper arguing that sociologists should be doing more to share code and data at the time of publication. If you read it, I'd certainly be interested in comments.

I just got an e-mail from someone I had sent it to asking "Is it OK to share your member?" I think the person must have been simultaneously thinking "memo" and "paper", but I'm not sure. In any case, I wrote back that it was okay to share my paper. Remarkably, perhaps, I was able to restrain myself from adding that it was definitely not OK to share my member with anyone.

Anyway, I received more information on the Great Leap Forward by economics in its expectations regarding the information researchers will provide at the time of publication. A key moment was apparently a 2003 paper by McCullough and Vinod that included an effort to replicate the five papers that used nonlinear models in a single 1999 issue of AER. Authors of one of the papers cooperated with the investigators' queries. Of the other four, McCullough and Vinod report:
Two authors provided neither data nor code: in one case the author said he had already lost all the files; in other case, the author initially said it would be "next semester" before he would have time to honor our request, after which he ceased replying to our phone calls, e-mails, and letters. A third author, after several months and numerous requests, finally supplied us with six diskettes containing over 400 files--and no README file... A fourth author provided us with numerous datafiles that would not run with his code. We exchanged several e-mails with the author as we attempted to ascertain how to use the data with the code. Initially, the author responded promptly, but soon the amount of time between our question and his response grew. Finally, the author informed us that we were taking too much of his time.

Monday, April 17, 2006

taxes, done

Correctly, I hope. TurboTax and the two-state situation ended up producing a return that was more complicated for my simple financial life (e.g., still just the standard deduction) than what I am used to. I do not want to go to jail. I want to pass Go. I want to collect my $200.

Incidentally, there was no crowd at the post office, perhaps because today is a state holiday (Patriot's Day), and thus taxes are apparently not due here until tomorrow. I didn't figure the Patriot's Day excuse would work with the Wisconsin Department of Revenue, however.

I did not go to the marathon today. I did have some people yell at me when I was running, something like "Dude, the race starts tomorrow!" and I shouted back "I know, I'm in it! I'll probably pull an all-nighter cramming for it!" I consider myself an honest person, but those who yell at jogging passersby forfeit all rights to the truth. (That said, the most common thing passersby yell at me, given that I am still usually jogging in my bright-gold Iowa sweatshirt, is "Go Hawks!", in response to which I do the in-then-up arm motion I associate with cheerleaders and shout back, "Go Hawks!")

Sunday, April 16, 2006

resurrection bling

When my sister visited, she bought Harvard shirts for both parents, all siblings, and some other relatives, as opposed to me who has never bought anyone any Harvard anything. I did, when we were in the store, decided to buy a Harvard sweatshirt for myself, although it ended up getting mixed up with the rest of my sister's Harvard haul and thus went back to Iowa. My mother mailed it to me, and also included some Easter gifts! I've been using the boxing reindeer pen to fight various inanimate objects around my apartment. It just completely walloped my prized green-ghoul tape dispenser:

as if i don't have enough trials in my life

I received the following invitation yesterday to participate in a clinical trial:

No, I will not let researchers mess around with my Man Hormones, not for Science and not for $1000.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

spammio killed the mappio star

I get so little joy from life. But, at least, for a few bright months, I had my map, where those visitors to this blog with ten seconds of charity of their hearts could leave a tack and enhance my sense of connection with the world. Now, however, sinister, venal cybervandals have begun leaving spam tacks in earnest, and I have removed the link to the map from my sidebar. Sigh. My broken spirit will mend, although I suspect it will never be as good as new.

dispatch from storrs

So, yesterday was the ASA Methodology conference. I did my presentation arguing that quantitative sociologists should be depositing code sufficient to reproduce analyses at the time of publication. I think it went all right. Actually, I think the basic idea went over really well, and the presentation was okay. I've been continuing to develop the argument in response to conversations I've had with people. The slides for the talk are here.

Originally I was going to drive back to Cambridge right after the conference. But then the conference ran long--instead of the last talk ending at 4:30, as was scheduled, it ended at 5:50. And, even more importantly, someone told me that taxes weren't actually due until April 17 instead of today.

Update: A commenter asks, "What kind of opposition were you expected, other than inertia?" The chief point of non-inertia opposition I have gotten from people who actually do quantitative social research--indeed, I suspect this may be a formidable obstacle--is that some people feel like the code that goes into analyses takes a long time to write, and they feel like they shouldn't have to just give this code away to others by making it publicly available. In other words, some people have basically the same stance regarding code that some people have about data, and so the various proprietary arguments against sharing data are re-presented with regard to code.

I have wondered whether this kind of argument may have greater traction in sociology rather than economics because programming skill in sociology are more scarce and might result in sociologists having more of a "hoarding" attitude toward the code they write (when, from a collective-knowledge-production standpoint, the scarcity implies that it would be even more valuable for sociologists who are good programmers to share their code than economists).

Thursday, April 13, 2006

sociology and blogs

After the despair and cyber-soul-searching caused by the closing of Pub Sociology, the fortunes of sociology blogging have brightened up:

1. Kim and Drek have been doing some guest posting over on Marginal Utility, reversing the usual pattern where economists invade sociologists turf.

2. Mike Shanahan is now blogging from North Carolina, opening up a much needed Southern Front in the cause of increasing the presence of blogs in the discipline. Mike increases the count of uncloseted-tenured-sociology-professors-who-blog-regularly to, what, three? (me, Mike, Chris)

3. j autumn's blog is now occasionally posting, so she's off my "Seemingly Fallen Travelers" sidebar blog graveyard list.

In a less happy development, someone appears to have started a carnal sociology blog, but doesn't appear to be going to keep with it. Which is too bad, as I would have liked the opportunity to read more about carnal sociology in a bloggerly format.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006


(my parents, Xmas 2004; my father made the card himself, but the cash he got from a store)

My parents' 53rd anniversary was today. According to familial lore, my parents would have married earlier, but my mother's father said she had to wait until she turned 17, which is why their anniversary is two days after her birthday.

I talked to my mother this evening. The highlight:
"He gave you a present he found in a dumpster?"
"By a dumpster."
"For your anniversary, something he found by a dumpster?"
"No, for my birthday."
My mother had trouble describing it exactly, but the words "giant" and "planter" and "terra cotta" were used.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

why i spel it cel

I used to spel "cel phone" with two l's. Then it seemed like hip people were speling it 'cel.' Not wanting to seem unhip, I switched. Now people regularly correct my speling, sometimes with a rectitude normaly reserved for egregious morall lapses. Given that it is a shortening of 'cellular', one could argue either that (a) this implies the only logicall shortening is 'cell' or that (b) since it is a shortening anyway, the proper way to shorten it is linguisticaly up for grabs. If (b), 'cel' has the appeall of being a nice play on 'tel', the standard shortening of 'telephone.' 'Cell' also starts to look like it contains an ungainlly redundancy when you are used to typing 'cel.' But I have no committment either way, realy. If I start to sense that I have misjudged the direction of lexicall history, I wil switch back.

(Addendum: I had an e-mail exchange about this with a 'cell' advocate who asked when they can start calling me 'Jer' instead of 'Jeremy.' My friends in college called me 'Jer.' Never again.)

Monday, April 10, 2006


(My mother dressed as Plumdolph, Santa's little purple reindeer who saved Xmas through relentless holiday baking [2001])

My mother turns 70 today. I called her last night to wish her a pre-emptive happy birthday, and I asked if she was excited to be turning the big seven-oh. "Yeah, Jeremy, I'm really looking forward to it," she said, deadpan, "I can't wait." And then, with just the right amount of rue: "You wait until you turn 70." I love my mother.

(Also, although my sister did put an icon on her desktop so she can look at my blog with just a click of her mouse, she does not sound like she has any inclination to do so. She has, however, been recently entranced by this bowling game that someone sent her the link to. My father, on the other hand, didn't find bowling interesting and continues to stick resolutely to his two games--solitaire and Spider solitaire--which has plays for more than an hour each day. My mom reported that he only recently discovered that the thing in solitaire, where if you win and go through the steps of moving the cards to the top, it does an animation of the cards shuffling on the screen. My father has now become convinced that this results in the cards actually being "shuffled" better and increases your probability of winning the following game. Longtime readers may recall this is not the first time my father has seemed not to fully understand the difference between 'physical' and 'virtual' reality.)

Sunday, April 09, 2006


I was working on a paper in a coffeeshop near Harvard Square earlier this evening. Three undergraduate women were sitting next to me. Much of their discussion was about body image and weight, as well as an interesting digression into what they would do if they suddenly woke up one morning and were men (here their fascination seemed centered primarily on being able to urinate while standing up). Later their discussion turned to their being at Harvard and the admissions process. "I feel like they must have looked at my application right after lunch," one of them said, "And at that lunch they must have had, like, cheesecake."

Saturday, April 08, 2006

we are all made of storrs

I am supposed to be giving a talk at the ASA Methodology conference in Storrs, CT this Friday. I am not sure how exactly I should go about getting to Storrs. It's a little bit more disconnected from main transportation channels that what I realized. Let me know if you have any ideas.

a commenter asks, 'shall we look for you in the boston marathon?'

I've already finished the Boston Marathon. In jeans, and carrying a man purse! Here's a photo of me at the finish line.

Regarding the marathon in Madison in May 28, let's just say preparations are behind schedule.

Why I am still sideways in this picture after using Flickr's rotate photo feature is beyond me. I am already too behind today to fuss about trying to fix this. If you click on it, I go back to being right side up. Flickr wouldn't have these annoying quirks if it was owned by Google instead of Yahoo.

Friday, April 07, 2006

(apropos of nothing) updated list of states from which i've blogged

NevadaNew HampshireNew Jersey
New MexicoNew YorkNorth Carolina
North DakotaOhioOklahoma
OregonPennsylvaniaRhode Island
South CarolinaSouth DakotaTennessee
VirginiaWashingtonWashington, D.C.
West VirginiaWisconsinWyoming

(Current count: 19. Last addition: New Jersey. Links are typically from my first post from that state.)

if you don't share my enthusiasm, you can always join the snakes on a plane! backlash

See cartoon here.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

from JFW to JFFFW (the extra f's are for family friendly)

STOP THE PRESSES!: My sister just e-mailed to tell me that, since my mother doesn't really know how to use a web browser except for Hotmail, she set up a shortcut so now Mom can finally access my weblog just by double-clicking a big friendly icon on her desktop.

Hi, Mom. Um, the thing I said in my last post about not being religious, don't pay any attention to that. I love you.

how to god-proof an experiment

Okay, so snarky nonreligious folks have had much to crow about the recent large-scale study that fails to find effects of intercessionary prayer. Given that I am a nonreligious person with a strong tendency toward snark, one might expect me to pile on.

Instead, the part of this that I really, truly do not understand is why someone with theistic beliefs would, if they thought the matter all the way through, expect there to be observable effects of intercessionary prayer in a randomized trial. If anything, one could argue that under the usual conditions of such trials any effects, if observed, would actually be more evidence against the existence of a God like the one that most Christians I know talk about, and would rather be evidence for a different kind of 'action at a distance' force operating in the universe. (That said, elaborated experiments could show that intercessionary prayer had an effect only when prayers to a specific God, etc., was prayed to, which obviously, if indisputable effects were observed, would be strong evidence for the implied cosmology).

I'm completely serious about this. I don't get it. If you are a Christian who believes that intercessionary prayer is something one should be able to study using a randomized clinical trial, I would love to be able to ask you questions about your conception of God and how prayer works. Here, on this blog, we could have a colloquy. Let me know. I mean, I'm open-minded about this, but I think that you could only hold that kind of hope about a trial if you hold internally inconsistent beliefs about God and prayer.

To put my argument simply: Person A has been randomly assigned to the treatment group. Person B is in the control group. Solely because of this random assignment, some well-intentioned-science-minded people pray for Person A and not Person B. Say you were God. Do you really help A and not B? What kind of God would do that?

Apart from that question, consider the point of the "randomized" part of randomized clinical trials. Randomization allows for powerful causal inferences because assignment to the treatment can be presumed to be independent to the other potential causes of the outcome. Except, um, when you are talking about God as a potential cause. You flip a coin to assign subjects to the treatment and control groups, and you want to study the causal effect of God but assume that God has no causal influence on the outcome of the coin flip. This same God who will subsequently save lives can't turn a heads into a tails? Seriously, how can you reconcile God and random assignment for a study of the effect of God?*

This led to a weird diversion this afternoon, which was trying to think about how one would go about trying to God-proof an experiment. In other words, how could you design a clinical trial so that you could have the most confidence that God was not mucking with your random assignment? I decided that you had to adopt a strategy where the assignment was not random, but could be presumed effectively random for the purposes of the experiment, and where the nonrandom assignment algorithm was as costly for God to muck with as possible. In other words, you would have to make it such that, for God to mess with your random assignment, God would have to had to actively intervene in the world in a very large and complicated series of ways--with who knows what effects--in order to exert the same kind of control over who was in the treatment and control group as if assignment was just based on a coin-flip. Specifically, I came to the conclusion that assignment should be based on the first two letters of one's surname, with "aa" being in the treatment group, "ab" being in the control group, and so on. The point is not that God would be incapable of still intervening to have deterministic (a.k.a. God-like) control over your assignment of treatment and control groups, just that your experiment would need to have been a very high priority influencing all kinds of other things in the world in order for this kind of deterministic influence to be exerted.

Also, by my calculations, you would need a very large sample.**

* As it happens, studies of intercessionary prayer are typically agnostic as to whether the effects of prayer are caused by God or something else. This is my whole argument in the second paragraph. My belief is that, if effects were observed, they would be evidence for the causal effect of that "something else" more straightforwardly than evidence for the causal effect of God.

** Preferably a census for whatever illness one was considering. Otherwise, all your God-proofing of the assignment process would get messed up by the non-God-proofing of the selection into who participates in the experiment.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

kathryn is annoyed with me because i refuse to name a star after her

I don't care if the "service" has been around since whenever and has whatever alleged star naming authority. I don't believe it. I don't believe that, in the future, space explorers from Earth will be referring to stars by names like "TO KITTEN LOVE RONNIE XOXO" just because someone paid $54 back in the 21st century for permanent naming rights and didn't know enough to turn the caps lock off. And, even if I did, giving stars whatever name somebody chooses just because they are willing to pay $54 seems wrong. Meritocracy should prevail in the naming of the firmament, I say. So, yes, while my generosity toward friends may seem unbounded--a fact about me that, incidentally, goes unnoted in my Wikipedia entry--sometimes I just have to say a principled no.

two bears in a basket

By Faneuil Hall, my sister and I saw this scruffy-looking man wearing headphones and dressed in a dirty clown smockish thing. He was making something with balloons. "You folks having a good day," he asked. We said we were. "I'm having a bad day," he said. The obvious question here would have been "Why?", but, since we were ambivalent about being in the conversation in the first place, we didn't asked it. "I was having a good day, but then it turned bad," he said. Again, the obvious question went unasked. "I'd be having a better day if somebody would leave."

At first I thought he was talking about us and was irritated with us staring at him while he made balloon animals. But even a crazy guy would not stand in a clown suit in a crowded part of Boston if he didn't want strangers to watch. So then I figured he was talking about this oafish guy who was standing by his balloon stash, but that didn't make sense because, if anything, the guy looked like his balloon-animal-groupie-backup.

Then I looked over and saw that not too far away there was another clown, older and dressed in a sort of dignified Doctor Who getup, standing on a blue crate and also doing balloons. Aha!

"Now you see what has me upset," our clown says. Then he starts talk to us in a louder voice while looking back and forth to the guy. Statements included, "Some people can't generate their own audience, so they have to come into other people's territory," "He only makes like dogs and stuff. He can't do anything like what I can do," "He's so unprofessional. He doesn't even blow up his own balloons. You think a real professional would use a pump like that."

Eventually, the other clown picked up his crate and walked away. We continued to talk to our clown until he finished making his two bears in a basket. He said he would probably be able to sell it for $20, although he would sell it for $5 since he could make them so easy. I have no idea what clowns actually make on balloon animals. My sister is even less the bears-in-a-basket type than I am, so we didn't buy it. I would have given him money just for being an entertaining street performer, but he didn't have a thing out. This may also be part of being a "professional" in the balloon animal trade, I don't know.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

i was minding my own business at work today and then suddenly: immortal!

Through the beneficence of persons unknown, I am now so blessed as to have my very own Wikipedia entry. Being Wikipedia, it may be anonymously revised by anyone. Quoth the raven, "Bring it on."

Note: The current Wikipedia text contains an error, saying I've had employment or attendance at three Big Ten schools when the count is really four (I've been employed and in residence three different summers at the University of Michigan). Can someone fix this? I refuse to touch my own entry, as that seems ridiculously tacky.

Monday, April 03, 2006

attack of the replicants

So, as readers know, I have decided to roll the dice on being labeled a crank* by arguing that quantitative sociology should attempt to muster some pretense of keeping up with movements in other social science disciplines to increase the transparency and accountability of data analysis (see here for standards of data availability in the flagship journal of economics, or here for extensive and influential debate about replication that commenced more than a decade ago in political science). One of the more interesting arguments from my detractors is that requiring to deposit their code for others to examine and learn from is a crass thing to ask of true professionals.

My first reaction to this argument was to think that it's an interesting feature of certain predominantly-left enterprises that they are enthusiastic about demands for greater transparency and disclosure in other professions but see the Greater Good served by a clubbish and insular "trust us, we're professionals" attitude in their own. My second was to recall this actual response received by a graduate student in response to a request of a professor of sociology for information relevant to reproducing results in a published article:
I am getting a bit tired of everyone trying to get in on the bandwagon to "replicate" my work. I am tired of people taking advantage of my generosity trying to make a fast buck and a name for themselves. I am wise to your deception. What makes you think you could fool me?

Ever heard of an original idea? You go out and have an idea of your own. Why don't you try that, instead of appropriating someone else's idea? [...]

In case you didn't know, you are in the business where ideas matter, your own ideas, not someone else's. Please leave me, and anyone else with original ideas, alone.
I guess one could say here that the graduate student could file an "ethics complaint" against the professor, although the ASA code of ethics is extremely vague about what help the professor is obliged to give, and it's always good to propose to people in subordinate positions that they should be comforted by the existence of quasi-litigious solutions that could be avoided in the first place if the organization/discipline had better practices.

* Update: Earlier, I said "precocious crank," because I associate crank-dom with being older than I am, so that if I was labeled a "crank" (as opposed to just, say, "crazy"), it would be an early achievement on my part. This apparently confused readers, so I revised it.

but, wait, aren't all three of these things still going on?

The retired Army general and NATO military commander argued in the Democrats' weekly radio address that the United States needs a new plan to win the war on terror after failing to find September 11 terror mastermind Osama bin Laden, fighting an unnecessary war in Iraq and stumbling in halting weapons proliferation in North Korea and Iran.
(Writing from laptop in bed, where insomnia rages, despite/because-of some consequential deadlines tomorrow/this-week for things that traveling and visiting sisters have left me very behind on.)

Sunday, April 02, 2006

i want to see the blue man group and shear madness during my time in boston, and, by god, i will, even if i have to go alone

I will have both of these things crossed off the list of things I've done by the time I leave this place. You have been warned. Whether I'll manage a hockey game, I'm less confident about.

he will destroy you like an academic ninja

Chris presents some highlights of student evaluations from At least last time I looked, I have never been rated on Whether this or my not having a Wikipedia entry is the bigger online injustice will be left for discerning readers to judge.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

freese family east

Someone from back in my rural Iowa 'hood e-mailed in response to my post that my sister was visiting. Since I didn't specify which sister was visiting, he wrote: "If it's [Sister A], say hi for me. If it's [Sister B], say hi for me. If it's [Sister C], good luck and say hi for me." [Sister C] is a handful in more ways than the present collective storage capacity of the World Wide Web would permit me to enumerate. [Sister A] is the one who is visiting.

One thing about the Freeses, we have high hydration and morning-motivation needs. My sister started the morning with a 20 ounce Diet Mountain Dew. Then I took her to the Starbucks near where I live so she could get both a Venti and Grande coffee.

Yesterday, among other things, we went on the Boston's famous Duck Tour, which uses a World War II amphibious vehicle to drive around Boston and into the Charles River. Our Duck was lavender, and our tour guide was dressed in lavender tie dye and had an ID badge that identified him by the name "Groovy." Later, I took my 46-year-old sister down to the Boston Harbor and we walked around, which was her first time seeing the Atlantic Ocean from any place other than Florida.